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Pentagon Whistleblower John Crane: “I Was Inspired by My Grandfather’s Stand Against Hitler”

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Pentagon whistleblower John Crane talks about how the actions of his grandfather nearly a century ago helped give him courage to expose misdeeds at the Pentagon. “In the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch, Hitler tried to seize the whole Bavarian government. Hitler walked into the beer hall and fired a gun into the ceiling, saying that he was taking control. My grandfather stepped in front of him, saying, 'Mr. Hitler, this way he will never control Germany.' And then Hitler simply put his gun down, went to the front, captured the whole senior leadership. My grandfather then helped to have the actual countercoup established, put down Hitler’s uprising, and then he was a witness at the trial for the government that, of course, put him in jail.”

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Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: What gave you the courage to speak out? Talk about your family.

JOHN CRANE: Civil society is very important. And in any large society, that there is a compact between the governed and those who govern them, and there needs to be transparency, and that there needs to be accountability. And should you have the wrong balance, should you have an executive out of control, that can simply compromise everyone’s rights. And in the Germany after World War I, when you have lots of unemployed soldiers with a grievance following very talented sociopaths, you can have a really explosive combination, and that was Nazi Germany. My father [sic] served under the Weimar Republic, and that was the liberal German republic after—

MARK HERTSGAARD: Your grandfather.

JOHN CRANE: Grandfather, after the First World War, that he was actually based down in Munich. He was in charge to—charged to monitor radical elements. And when Hitler tried to seize power for the first time, Hitler tried to use force. And then, in the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch, Hitler tried to seize the whole Bavarian government. Hitler walked into the beer hall and fired a gun into the ceiling, saying that he was taking control. My grandfather stepped in front of him, saying, “Mr. Hitler, this way he will never control Germany.” And then Hitler simply put his gun down, went to the front, captured the whole senior leadership. My grandfather then helped to have the actual countercoup established, put down Hitler’s uprising, and then he was to trial—then he was a witness at the trial for the government that, of course, put him in jail.

AMY GOODMAN: And what happened to your grandfather?

JOHN CRANE: My grandfather, of course, wasn’t a fascist, that in 1933, when Mr. Hitler seized power, that he resigned, but he wasn’t allowed to resign. He was very active with the antifascist resistance, that my uncle was killed in Poland in 1939. And one of his friends was a young officer called Graf Claus Schenk von [Stauffenberg]. He was the man who actually put the suitcase beside Hitler in 1944 to have Hitler killed. And so, he was a family friend. And the issue is: Within any society, how does a person channel simply principled civil dissent within a Nazi dictatorship that accords violence? Within the system we have here, because it is a constitutional democracy, principled dissent needs to be channeled through the whistleblower system, because that will help senior management also seeing levels down.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you want your old job back within the Pentagon’s Inspector General Office, being in charge of protection of whistleblowers?

JOHN CRANE: When I was in charge, outside civil society organizations said that my programs were the federal gold standard. That is not the case anymore. That should the new acting inspector general want to return his office to the gold standard, I am willing to help.

AMY GOODMAN: Mark Hertsgaard, as we begin to wrap up, how you came to investigate this story, and what the government’s response has been? You have interviewed Michael Hayden several times.

MARK HERTSGAARD: I did. The reason I got this story is because of the work of the Government Accountability Project, and they deserve a shout-out here. For 37 years, they have been defending whistleblowers, advocating for whistleblowers, both in individual cases like this and helping to write things like the whistleblower protection law and push it through Congress. They represented legally Edward Snowden, John Crane, Tom Drake and a whole range of other whistleblowers. And one of the things I say in the book is that while this is a very dramatic story, we need to understand as citizens—and this is what John Crane is saying here—we absolutely depend, as a democracy, on whistleblowers. We’ve got to know that they can come forward, because when whistleblowers come forward, whether it’s Daniel Ellsberg or John Crane or Edward Snowden or, you know, Jeffrey Wigand, who blew the whistle on how Big Tobacco was lying about nicotine in our cigarettes, you know, whistleblowers can make wars end, they can take deadly products off the market, and a whole range of other things. And I think whistleblowers do not get the respect that they deserve. And so that was what I was trying to do in this book. And the Government Accountability Project let me do that.

AMY GOODMAN: And the institutions you decided to release this with, this information—

MARK HERTSGAARD: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: —where you went, and where you didn’t go?

MARK HERTSGAARD: I went to—I went in February to Europe to meet face to face with the editors especially at The Guardian, because they broke the Snowden story originally. And very proud to say that they saw the value of this story right away, the same with Der Spiegel in Germany. And I chose them precisely because they’re outside of the United States. Too often the mainstream media in this country, as you well know, Amy, tend to, by default almost, reflect and channel the government’s views of this. You asked, did I go to the government? Of course I went to the government. I asked them about this. I asked Henry Shelley, I asked Lynne Halbrooks—the people who offed John Crane. They said they wouldn’t comment. And I think that they are assuming that this is going to blow over, because, in general, the American media has not held their feet to the fire.

Michael Hayden, the NSA director, he basically says that he wanted to put Edward Snowden on a government kill list. He said that was a joke. But he’s not quite as bloodthirsty as James Woolsey, the former CIA director, who said last November, after the Paris terrorist attacks, that Mr. Snowden, quote, “should suffer death by hanging. Electrocution is too good for him.” So, when you’ve got a government like that, who has that kind of antipathy to whistleblowers, it’s all the more important that, as Snowden said yesterday reacting to John’s story in The Guardian, Snowden said we need to recognize whistleblowers and basically lift them up in the public debate, because without that, without the press doing that, the government will—by either active or de facto hostility, they will take people like John Crane down. And our democracy will be lessened. We would not know that the NSA is spying on all of us, had not Edward Snowden decided to go outside of this broken whistleblower system and become an act of conscience.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, who was speaking on CNN last year. He called NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden a traitor.

DONALD TRUMP: I think he’s a total traitor. And I would deal with him harshly. And if I were president, Putin would give him over. I would get along with Putin. I’ve dealt with Russia. Putin hates—

ANDERSON COOPER: You think you’d get along with Putin?

DONALD TRUMP: I think I’d get along with him fine. I think he’d be absolutely fine. He would never keep somebody like Snowden in Russia. He hates Obama. He doesn’t respect Obama. Obama doesn’t not like him, either. But he has no respect for Obama, has a hatred for Obama. And Snowden is living the life. Look, if that—if I’m president, Putin says, “Hey, boom, you’re gone.” I guarantee you that.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Donald Trump talking about Edward Snowden. John Crane, in these last 30 seconds, your final comment?

JOHN CRANE: Regarding whistleblowing, that civil society, the Office of the Special Counsel and the Congress, in the most recent defense authorization bill under Chairman McCain, independently have all reached the same conclusion regarding the whistleblowing system within the IG. And their message to Secretary Ashton Carter is: Houston, we have a problem.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to leave it there. I want to thank you, John Crane, former senior official at the Pentagon in charge of protecting whistleblowers at the Pentagon and the NSA, speaking out here in this broadcast exclusive on Democracy Now! And Mark Hertsgaard, congratulations on your new book, Bravehearts: Whistle-Blowing in the Age of Snowden.

That does it for today’s show. I’ll be at the Philadelphia Free Library today at 1901 Vine Street at noon speaking, and tomorrow evening, Tuesday, at the Brooklyn Historical Society on Pierrepont. Happy birthday to Mike DiFilippo.

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracynow.org. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

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